By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox PhD
“Brother Richard,” he half exclaimed, standing as he spoke and embracing me warmly with what seemed to be a genuine quiet giggle of welcome. I say “seemed” because figuring out Parnel R. Campbell Q.C. is for me mission impossible. I have been at it for a while now!
“Mr. Campbell, thanks for…”
“Brother Richard,” he interrupted, “what is this Mr. Campbell? P.R. man.”
“Me? Call him PR!” I thought incredulously, hoping that I displayed no expression that betrayed my desperate wish to get behind the bespectacled, seemingly ever-penetrating eyes, in search of the complex brain mechanics managing this British-Vincentian persona. It was the 1979 elections, specifically UPM that first deposited Mr. Campbell onto my consciousness; but we weren’t to meet personally until my return from university a decade and a half later. What struck me at that meeting was his Schopenhauer’s “mitfreude” (joying with) attitude to me. Unlike the other “learned men” in SVG at the time, (who rightly saw me as an upstart), he seemed genuinely very happy for and proud of my accomplishment.
Now here I was in his office another fifteen years later still feeling like an Orwellian Winston Smith meeting my O’Brien. He seemed capable of x-raying my very soul while he remained opaque as the deepest deeps of the Pacific Ocean.
When we first met, Mr. Campbell was at the zenith of his political powers being Deputy PM, Attorney General, and Mitchell’s heir apparent; by virtue of which, he was also the Opposition’s chief nemesis and target. He was the political colossus to be toppled! He represented Central Kingstown from whence I hailed, and while commanding the upper echelons of both the government and his party, still maintained solid connections with a broad cross section of his generally poor and depressed constituency. He seemed to think John Public malleable to his wishes and would quite often speak to us as a stern school master would; so much so that one calypsonian declared him a national hex; and, ended up being crowned both calypso and Roach March king for his efforts.
Mr. Campbell is remarkable! I liked his professionalism, his courage and self-belief, his legendary discipline; his ability to communicate with the populist. I was so intrigued, I set out on a mission to “discover” who is Parnell Campbell. First, I turned to what was in the public domain and found he had been a master at the BGS, and in 1969 had spearheaded the committee which organized our Statehood celebrations. He had gone to UWI, Cave Hill where his achievements included being President of the Guild and winning the calypso competition with a number entitled “Buy your own cigarettes”! (I am advised that his calypso gem is “Panty Literature” where he declares, “The harder they come the softer they fall!”). Intrigued lead to admiration when I was told of his sympathies for the Black Power movement, and, him giving up pursuit of a Ph.D. at Cambridge, returning home to be part of the political process. I was stunned by that latter fact. I simply didn’t believe it. But Dr. Kenneth John (whom I thank profusely for being my historical bible), confirmed that he was the one who issued the call. Mr. Campbell maintains to this day that he would do it again knowing the results (he lost), “because service to this nation comes before any personal accolade.”
For the two score years I have known him, we have become closer, and I have grown to respect and admire him more and more. Most people would not know that Mr. Campbell slept on benches in classrooms when he just went to Cave Hill as he had no alternative! During his time in political office, he proposed constitutional reform. It was his draft from this period that was built upon to create the proposed constitution considered at our attempt to adopt a new constitution. He was Chairman of the committee that prepared the proposed new constitution. Mr. Campbell established the Family Court; spearheaded legislation that supported unmarried mothers and their children as regard securing alimony from delinquent fathers; oversaw the comprehensive revision of the laws of SVG; was a leader in the Spiritual Baptist, and was part of the legal team that won back Orange Hill estate for the people of SVG!!
I have never seen in Mr. Campbell dismissive aloofness, contemptuous snobbery, or obsessive self-importance. He however had a great flaw: misplaced loyalty to Son Michell of which I warned him. In my view he possesses the intellectual and political talent, work ethic, patriotism, love for people and a measure of decency that put him way beyond playing second fiddle to someone clearly his inferior, and who in my estimation was conscious of this inferiority which made him afraid of and disliked Mr. Campbell; but couldn’t do without him!
Mr. Campbell’s bitter fights with our present PM were legendary. The latter ultimately prevailed in part because Mr. Campbell fell victim to the Brutus syndrome; a fall better orchestrated than that of Caesar as he was quartered and cremated even before attaining Premiership, ensuring he had no way back!! But he lives Hannibal’s dictum, “I will either find a way or make a way.” Consequently, having so much heart for his country, so much to offer, and so much energy to do it, the proverbial Phoenix defied cremation to become SVG’s most powerful social commentator via “The Law and You.”
I have deconstructed Mr. Campbell: a Barrouallie man who grew up in struggle; a thinker, a religious man and legal luminary; a shrewd politician and loyal team player, a champion of the “Kill the Bills movement of the early 80s….. But I have not been able to demystify the man! He is still Obrien. And like Winston Smith, I admire and respect him, for he personifies human decency, practiced patriotism, and the true Vincy renaissance man!! But above all; he has been a teacher, example, and friend! His place in our history is secured.
1. This is in celebration of this great man. I hope to write my final farewell shortly.